EUGENE, Ore (AP) — Washington State defeated Oregon in double overtime last year, a game that ignited the Cougars’ run to a 9-4 record and a bowl game victory over Miami.
“That was a turning point for us,” said Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, who threw for 505 yards and five touchdowns in the game in Eugene.
On Saturday, Washington State (1-2) will host Oregon in another game the Cougars hope can light a fire under a team that has mostly underperformed so far this season.
Safety Colton Teglovic said last year’s game proved to the Cougars that they could win a close contest in a tough environment.
“We used that as a springboard,” Teglovic said.
But Washington State coach Mike Leach isn’t much for looking backward, and doesn’t want his team thinking about last year.
“This is 2016,” Leach said. “If they go in a time machine, or Captain Kirk, they’ll miss the whole thing by a year and the Klingons are gonna kill them all. They better focus on this year or it won’t be a productive, happy experience.”
One thing the Cougars need to improve on is their slow starts.
“We’ve just got to stop coming out flat,” said cornerback Marcellus Pippins. “We’ve been coming out flat the last couple of games. We’ve got to start fast and have a rhythm coming out.”
Oregon (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) is coming off a 41-38 loss to Colorado, the Buffaloes’ first win over Oregon since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. Quarterback Dakota Prukop was intercepted in the end zone on Oregon’s final drive to kill a comeback attempt.
Two days after the loss, Oregon held a players-only meeting after practice.
“We just want guys to play harder, to give it all they got, particularly on special teams,” receiver Dwayne Stanford said. “We want everyone who touches the field to give it all they got.”
Oregon has been slowed by injuries, with defensive end Jalen Jelks and defensive tackle Drayton Carlberg doubtful to play against the Cougars. The status of star running back Royce Freeman is unclear.
Inexperience is also an issue, with 11 freshmen included on Oregon’s offensive and defensive two-deep depth chart prior to Saturday’s loss to Colorado.
Coach Mark Helfrich said it’s too early to panic.
“We were left for dead last year and bounced back,” he said. “We were left for dead the year before and that turned out OK.”
“I told the team, and I believe it 100 percent, this team can be special,” Helfrich said.
Some things to watch when Oregon plays at Washington State:
RAH, RAH: Falk said he needs to take a greater leadership role. “This year I’ve got to be more of an energy guy,” said Falk, who isn’t the type for speeches. “I’m kind of a calm, even-keeled guy, it’s definitely not within my personality, but I definitely can do it.”
WILL ROYCE ROLL?: Freeman, who ran for 246 yards and three touchdowns against the Cougars last year, may not play. The Ducks do not talk about injuries, but Freeman suffered a leg injury two weeks ago against Nebraska and did not play in Oregon’s loss to Colorado. The Cougars say his injury status is of no concern to them because Oregon has other weapons. “The other backs are good too,” Leach said. “It really doesn’t change anything.”
MORROW RETURNS: Washington State junior running back Jamal Morrow was ejected in the second half of the Idaho game after officials ruled that he appeared to punch an Idaho defender at the end of a special teams play, an act that could have required Morrow to miss the first half of the Oregon game. But Washington State officials say because Morrow was tossed for unsportsmanlike conduct, not targeting, the penalty does not carry over to the next game.
NO 3’S: Cougars kicker Erik Powell has missed all three of his field goal attempts this season.
GROUND RAID: Sure they call it the Air Raid offense, but Washington State is averaging 121.7 rushing yards per game behind Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks. They have accounted for eight of the Cougars’ 16 touchdowns.